Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Fort Gaston
(Camp Gaston) (Humboldt County)
 

Established on December 4, 1859, it was situated in the Hoopa Valley on the west bank of the Trinity River, some 14 miles above its junction with the Klamath River in Humboldt County. Located within the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation, it was intended to both control the area's Indians and to protect them against hostile depredations. The post was established by Captain Edmund Underwood, 4th Infantry, and named for 2nd Lieutenant William Gaston, 1st Dragoons, killed on May 17, 1854, during the campaign against the Spokane Indians. Originally called Fort Gaston, it was renamed Camp Gaston on January 1, 1846, and then redesignated Fort Gaston on April 5, 1867. Abandoned on June 29, 1892, the military reservation was transferred to the Department of the Interior on February 11, 1892, reserved for the use of the Indian Service.

Not to be confused for Camp Gaston in Southern California

 

Fort Gaston
by Justin Rughe
 
 
Fort Gaston was established on December 4, 1858. It was situated in the Hoopa Valley, a rugged deep slash in the redwood forests, on the west bank of the Trinity River, some 14 miles above its junction with the Klamath River, Humboldt County. Located within the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation where the forest came right to the edge of the Fort, it was intended to control the area's Native American population and protect them against hostile depredations.
 
The post was established by Captain Edmund Underwood, 4th Infantry, and named for 2nd Lieutenant William Gaston, 1st Dragoons, killed on May 17, 1858, during the campaign against the Spokane Native Americans. Originally called Fort Gaston, it was renamed Camp Gaston on January 1, 1867 and then redesignated Fort Gaston on April 5, 1879. The Fort consisted of 37 log and frame buildings on the edge of the Trinity River. About 200 men were stationed there with the number varying with time. A large garden was located next to the river.
 
Fort Gaston had its troubles from the beginning. Ambushes of mail carriers and stages were common. At least twice the horses of the mailman and his escort returned to the Fort without riders. Once a settler found a note left by the carrier that he was "shot and mortally
wounded." When his escort was located, there was a knife through his neck and his nose and flesh had been cut from his face.
 
On Christmas Day 1863, a reverse type of battle with the Native Americans took place near Gaston. The Native Americans were barricaded in several log buildings from which they were firing at the troops from rifle ports. The Army surrounded the site and bombarded it with howitzers. By nightfall, all the ammunition had been used up and the buildings were in ruins. However, in the darkness, the Native Americans crawled away in the high grass around the buildings and escaped. A peace treaty was finally signed with the Native Americans in 1865.
 
General Order No. 14 abandoned Fort Gaston on June 29, 1892. The military reservation was transferred to the Department of the Interior on February 11, 1892 who reserved it for the Indian Service. In 1980, many of the original buildings from the Fort still lined the parade ground, then the location of the Hoopa Indian Agency.
 
The Reservation is located at Hoopa on State Route 299, northeast of Eureka, California.
 
 

Photograph shows a loaded mule train ready for the trail in front of the Commanding Officer's House. Circa 1880s
 
 
 
Another image of a mule train in front of the enlisted barracks
 
 
 
Fort Gaston
by Colonel Herbert M. Hart, USMC (Retired)
 

Fort Gaston almost was the scene of a Hollywood-type extravaganza back in 1861. That was when the District Commander decided to gather all of the Indians to the post, then stage a demonstration of drilling and firepower that' would convince the Native Americans that they should be good Indians.

He planned to fire blank cartridges and the mountain howitzers. The idea fell through when he suggested to the Presidio that he would need six companies of infantry for the show.

This came at a time when troops were being pulled from the forts in the Humboldt. Gaston's commander protested that the transfer of any more men might have dire consequences.

"The excitement among the Indians has been great," he wrote. "Although I did not apprehend an attack from the Indians, I took the necessary precaution by issuing ammunition to my men and doubling my guards."

He said the local settlers were building a blockhouse, but would abandon their valley if any more troops were withdrawn. To complicate matters, he was the only officer at the post and was in such bad health he could not leave his room.

Gaston had its troubles from the day it was' established in 1858. It was in the Hoopa Valley, a rugged deep slash in the redwood forests of Northern California, and the woods came right to the edge of the open fort.

Ambushes of mail carriers and stages were common. At least twice, the horses of the mailman and his escort returned to the fort without riders. Once a settler found a note left by the carrier that he was "shot and mortally wounded." When his escort was located, there was a knife through his neck and his nose and flesh cut from his face.

On Christmas Day, 1863, a reverse type of battle with the Indians took place near Gaston. The Indians holed up in several log buildings, firing at troops from rifle ports, while the Army blasted them with the howitzers. Artillery accuracy wasn't too good and most of the first rounds went wild. By night fall the buildings were in ruins, but in the darkness the Indians were able to steal away.

Peace was finally signed with the Indians in 1865. Gaston, alternating between being called a fort and a camp, stayed in business until 1892 when it was abandoned.

U. S. Grant house in 1964, one of many in Pacific Northwest, was surgeon's quarters, supposedly used by Grant when he was at Gaston for short time in the fifties. Local legend, rather than fact, support the Grant connection.

 

Fort Gaston was built around parade ground 600 feet square. Buildings were of logs and adobe.

 

These indigenous women (tribes unknown) are waiting for food rations at Fort Gaston in in 1877. Photo courtesy of the Humboldt State University Library.
Fort Gaston in 1882 was fairly calm, although woods and hills still came right up to edge of post. Theater is at far left. cemetery in trees. barracks behind flagpole commissary storehouse on right.
 
 
Fort Gaston in 1964


This page was reprinted with permission from Old Forts of the Northwest, published in 1965
 
 
 
 
Additional Online Histories
 
Wikipedia
Fort Wiki
 
 
Updated 12 December 2015